The inside story behind Wigan Warriors’ bold new rebrand

Few people are more aware of how much the history and heritage of Wigan Rugby League Club means to the town than Kris Radlinski.

The 44-year-old played over 300 times for the Warriors during a 14-year career, winning every major domestic honour before taking an off-field role with the club that now sees him as executive director. So Radlinski fully understood what he was taking on by overseeing a rebrand of Wigan that sees a move away from their long-established club crest to a bold new logo incorporating the past and present of the Warriors.

“We needed to create a brand that was up there with leading sporting organisations around the world who had a far better digital presence than we did,” Radlinski explains. “We couldn’t do what we wanted to do with our badge in terms of creating commercial opportunities. We went in with our eyes wide open knowing that the badge is very traditional and means a lot to people of this town.

“We know that through this process we may upset a few people, but we need to be bold and brave, and if we want to take our brand to new places and be aspirational with it, now is the time for change.”

The move found its origins in the Super League remodelling of last year, when leading sports brand agency Nomad – whose portfolio of clients also includes the Premier League – started a push to move the sport forward in how it presents itself at the top level. The London-based company also did an audit of clubs, with its feedback telling Wigan that they had a workable nickname but a crest that had little digital, broadcast or commercial potential.

“This underlined what we’d felt internally for a while, which was that the crest needed modernising,” Radlinski explains. “We started the process and that began with the chairman Ian Lenagan, which we thought would be a difficult discussion.

“But he was pretty clear in his understanding that it needed to happen, it needed to happen now, and it needed to be radical. We met the designers, jumped in with both feet and consulted with lots of people on the journey.”

The Bolton-born chief designer on the project for Nomad, Stuart Watson, had his own emotional attachment to the project. “In the living room at home, our family has got the Wigan crest on the wall, and it’s been there since I was born,” he says. “I’ve literally grown up with it. This will probably make my mum the proudest of any job I’ve done over the last 20 years, and I’ve been honoured to be a part of it.

“I understand the huge amount of respect, love, admiration and passion for the current badge. I want to assure people that’s not going away and it will be a mark of heritage. But the world has changed unrecognisably over the last 10 years in terms of digitally and broadcast, and what we look to do with logos now is make them so they can burst to life on social media and on television.

“Unfortunately the old crest is so complex it doesn’t shrink down, it doesn’t reduce well – it doesn’t do the job it needs to do in the modern world. That’s the reason for change, and hopefully to attract a new audience as well.”

Still, the project was far from plain sailing. When Watson came back with an initial concept, it didn’t fit what Radlinksi was looking for.

“Nomad are market leaders in what they do and tremendous professionals – the process of consultation and design was very thorough, with three months of conversations before they even picked a pencil up,” Radlinski recalls. “But when we got the first concept back it was way off, more like a knight.

“I had to be really honest and when I first saw it my heart dropped. I will have to front a lot of this up, and I knew I couldn’t stand up in front of Wiganers and say this is the way forward. It just wasn’t what we all envisaged and I had to be really honest.

“It’s fair to say they didn’t take it well at the time and he probably needed the weekend to calm down and reassess, but Stuart came back on Monday, we had another chat and share badges that we liked, and within three weeks after that he came back with a different vision.”

Watson has similar memories of that initial discussion. “It was quite chastening,” he admits. “We’d created this logo that we were really excited by and was punchy. But in fairness it was just a generic warrior, and it could have been anyone’s.

“Kris just pushed us to think a bit deeper and make it completely authentic and true to Wigan Warriors. It made us take a few steps back and we developed a process of working together. We were on the back foot and knew the next time we presented to Kris it had to be right.

“We did a whole deep dive into what made a Brigantes Warrior, their connection with Wigan and why it’s right for them. It wasn’t nice, but it was probably the most important thing that happened.”

Brigantes was the name of a tribe that inhabited Wigan and other large parts of northern England before and during the Roman era, with a group of the club’s supporters taking their title. The Brigantes history became an integral part of the rebrand project following extensive discussions with fans.

“There we some elements in our badge that our supporters said were non-negotiable,” Radlinski explains. “It had to say ‘Ancient and Loyal’ and it had to reference 1872. We added a couple of other things like the cherry and white hoops in the background and the shield, which is the actual shield from the original crest.

“What’s new is the warrior in middle. Now we do have some fans than don’t like ‘Warriors’ and we’ve never had one on the crest. We stumbled across a narrative about the Brigantes Warriors who were prevalent in northern England historically and came back with some images of them.

“They all had a helmet and facial hair, Nomad added the WW into the beard, but the real narrative came about the eyes. It came from a work colleague who thought there was something about a Wiganer’s eyes – something you didn’t see in the eyes of his hometown of Warrington – a determination, a defiance, this desire to prove people wrong.

“When he was saying that you could see the designer getting excited by this new story. He went away, and within three weeks of the first badge, he came back with a new one on the back of this story. We’ve tweaked it a little over the last four months but it’s not changed that much – as soon as we saw the first draft of this crest we realised we were onto something. We fell in love with it pretty much straight away.”

The circular badge is also a nod to Wigan’s Northern Soul links, and will be central to a new range of clothing that aims to move the club’s merchandising performance forward significantly.

“In the past it’s fair to say we’ve had a souvenir shop mentality, where we’ve just put the crest on a pencil case,” Radlinski says. “And there’s still a need for this. But what we do now will be much more cultural and lifestyle based, a different direction for us. I’m really looking forward to seeing how people will take that.

“The crest had 21,000 threads in it, and every time we embroidered it on something it cost us £3.20. You just couldn’t shrink it down and we can do so much more with the new one and be a lot more creative going forward.”

Radlinski admits there is a mixture of nervousness and excitement in taking the bold new vision to supporters, but believes there is another level to the move. At a time where uncertainty swirls menacingly around professional sport at most levels, the Warriors executive director believes this shows that Wigan are ready to emerge from the difficulties of 2020 into a brighter new future.

“Nobody envisaged this Covid situation but it’s probably a good time to come out the other side of it and launch this fresh, modern, young and exciting way forward for the club,” Radlinski adds. “Nobody would have wanted to go through what we have done this year, but we see this as a beacon of light to emerge from the other side of it.

“Whereas perhaps people might have been more protective of the badge at the start of the year, a lot of people’s priorities have changed now, and this gives us an opportunity to say right, we know what the old badge meant to us but this is the way forward for Wigan Warriors.

“Nervousness is a good word – I wouldn’t use the word fear – and there’s a lot of excitement as well. We’re only doing this to make us better. If anyone says they don’t like it that’s fine, that’s an opinion, we’ve no problem with that.

“But my message back to them is we’re trying to make the club better, do different things, make it bigger and give better offerings to our fans. It allows us to do so much more.We’re coming out of the other side of Covid with this great hope that we can take the game forward. We’re not just surviving – this is us moving forward.”

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